A tale of two Brothers

The epic battle royale of the super bowl yesterday between the Harbaugh brothers (Jim and John) reminds me of a biblical story of two brothers: Cain and Abel. I’m not using this story to compare situations, but to do a deeper analysis of the biblical story.

As you remember, Adam and Eve were banned from the garden of Eden and then had two sons, Cain and Abel.  Genesis 4:3-5 says:

In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

Then God reminded Cain that he had to control his anger, lest it get the best of him. After ignoring God’s wisdom, Cain took matters into his own hands and murdered his brother Abel. The part of the story that has almost always interested me, and a quote that I probably have used to blame shift is when the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know, ” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9).  Miroslav Volf, in his book “Exclusion and Embrace”, states that, “No other biblical text describes better the anatomy, dynamics, and power of exclusion that the story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-16)” (92). When Cain murdered Abel out of envy and hatred he brought on consequences to others and himself that eliminated belonging and relationships. I think that Volf correctly touches on how identity formation and the contrast of Cain and Abel’s offerings to God were prime motivators in Cain’s actions. The truth is, we are supposed to look after our brothers and sister’s in the faith. As youth leaders we do this through accountability of our students and each other. Ultimately, we are all accountable to God, but God’s love is made known in our relationships with each other.

Back to the text! Then God, not to be outdone or mocked by Cain’s attempt of deceit, judges Cain for what he has done and said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground” (Gen. 4:10). Thus, we not only have the first murder, but the first instance of persecution of the righteous. Jesus even said to the Pharisees in his seven woes to them, in Matthew 23, “And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah,whom you murdered between the temple and the altar” (23:35).

If we are truly living by the ethics outlined by Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount we acknowledge that “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10). Let us be like Abel and give the right offerings to God our Savior and learn to live under the cover of his imputed righteousness through love and obedience to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, by the power of his Holy Spirit within us!

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